When I sit down to decide what to review in film study, I usually look for things that are not obvious, to try to bring the viewer something they might otherwise have missed. Sometimes, however, I think its worth revisiting something that ought to be as plain as the nose on your face.
A significant thing happened in the Cowboys game against the Baltimore Ravens. Significant enough that I actually hopped online briefly to comment to Dave Halprin about it. Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant connected for a short yardage TD, executing a perfect back-shoulder throw. Adding that weapon to the arsenal takes Dallas’ offense to an entirely new level. Then Dak and Dez grabbed a second TD which was an even more significant step for the young QB as well as a major milestone for Dez Bryant, giving him his 14th multi-touchdown game. One more not only ties Bob Hayes for the club record, but puts Dez in the top 20 all-time, in just his seventh season. Eleven of the men in front of him have gold Hall of Fame jackets and all of them took more years to get their multiple touchdown games. But the bigger thing is the connection that has developed here.
TD 1, The Weapon
First we’ll look at the pre-snap for the first Dak to Dez TD. It’s first and goal at the four. Dallas is in a 3 WR look with Cole Beasley in the slot. The Ravens answer with nickel, but use an interesting front. The circles are LBs and the rectangles are safeties. They are bringing heat off the edges in an attempt to contain the run and, it’s worth noting, that this formation puts eight in the box, even in nickel. Of course, there’s a price to pay for this as they leave a CB in man coverage with Dez Bryant.
It’s actually quite humorous to watch the rest of this play out. The sight adjustment to a back-shoulder throw to Dez is so automatic that Terrence Williams simply stands up. Cole Beasley actually takes a couple of steps before recognizing that he’s not fooling anyone. Ezekiel Elliott starts strong but Dak is already pulling up and throwing, so he stops, too. Tyron Smith is busy tossing the blitzing Eric Weddle like a rag doll. Dez is positioning himself as Dak delivers the ball. Both of them know exactly where this is going. As does everyone else on the field, really.
The ball (blue circle) is delivered right on target. There’s simply no stopping Dez when the ball is on time and on target. Now that Dak has added this throw to his repertoire, the Dallas red zone offense is virtually unstoppable. Anything less than eight in the box and Elliott runs it in. Put eight in the box, they do this and leave your defense standing demoralized and helpless like the CB at the top on Williams, or rolling in a fetal ball like Eric Weddle (purple square). Seriously, just take a look at the body language of the DBs in this last shot. They know it’s over and the ball hasn’t even hit Dez’s hands yet.
But the next touchdown is even more significant for Dak, in my opinion.
TD 2, No MVP
It’s second and 8 at the 14. Dez Bryant is running a slant here, and you can already see how the blitz is going to open that route up. We’ll come back to that. Dak, pre-snap, correctly points out that Ravens’ blitz. His recognition and execution make this TD. If you count the Ravens rushers, including the blitzers, you will see that there are seven. If you count the little blue arrows that represent Cowboys pass protectors, you will see that there are six. Dak directs the blitz pickup here. Failing to do so properly will result in a free rusher in his face.
And here’s what the blitz looks like close up from the end zone view. Jason Witten has broken off his route and is flying across the field. You can see what an easy and tempting target he is here for a likely first down. Again, we’ll come back to that. But look at the pocket against a seven man blitz by one of the best defenses in the NFL. Every pass protector has handled a man. At one point, the much-maligned Doug Free stands alone against his man as well as the circled C. J. Mosley and holds both of them up long enough for the diminutive Lance Dunbar to come in and take down the big Mike LB. Lardarius Webb is forced to come way around the outside by the outstanding protection call as well as the beautiful execution by the entire team. I seriously get teary-eyed looking at this picture. Teamwork at its finest. Let someone else argue about the MVP. Give me the TEAM that plays like this... every day and twice on Sunday.
So, back to the greater picture. As I mentioned, Jason Witten has broken off his route on a hot read and is a huge, open target in the middle of the field for a first down. You and I could make that throw, but this is where Dak is growing. He doesn’t want the first down when he knows he has six points. Look at his stance and set up. He knows he called the blitz right. He knows he doesn’t need to drop it down to Witten in an emergency. He is looking for Dez Bryant, again one-on-one, and a touchdown. I want to emphasize that Witten here is a perfectly acceptable read. It’s an easy throw. A probable first down against a blitz, and one missed tackle is a TD. But Dak doesn’t settle for easy when he knows he’s capable of more. No check down here. The padawan has learned to Dare Greatly.
Here’s the release. You can see the space he’s throwing to and the leverage Dez will have on the much smaller corner, Tavon Young. As we know, Dez will carry Young into the end zone. But on the subject of teamwork I want to point out a subtle little detail in Jason Witten. The kind of thing that will be little noted nor long remembered, but which makes him a Hall of Fame player. Knowing the ball is not coming his way, Witten has turned his route back towards the line of scrimmage, forcing safety Eric Weddle to come forward, changing his angle on the play and running him right out of Dez’s way. I’m not sure that Weddle would have been able to stop Dez had he been able to sit back a little further, but the angle he now takes in response to Witten absolutely runs him out of the play, leaving Dez with one man to beat (carry) to the end zone. Just a last little detail on how the machine works, each piece contributing.
For fans of the Dallas Cowboys, you should be very happy. the Baltimore Ravens came into the game with the clear intention of forcing Dak Prescott to beat them, and beat them he did. But the bigger thing is what he showed on the way to that victory.